One of our intermediaries Frankie took some time out to have a chat with a few of our senior team leaders, Melissa (M), Sarah (S), Sarah (Sa), and Lucy (L). She asked them about their roles, what they enjoy the most and what you need to become an intermediary.

Q. Firstly what is your favourite thing about being an intermediary?

Sa: I love the variety of the job. I love that we are able to make a difference and help others. Being such a crucial part of helping a person to understand and have a fair trial or hearing just brings so much job satisfaction and is something that I’ll always be proud of.

M: When you explain something or use a strategy and you visibly see the difference, like a light bulb goes off as soon as something clicks.

S: I love the diversity of the role, one day I can be in Newcastle supporting a mother in family court, preventing a miscommunication during a conference, the following day I could be in Birmingham working in Crown Court.

L: I have to agree with what everyone has already said! I love that no intermediary day is the same and those moments where your assistance has really made a difference as to whether someone has been able to meaningfully participate, are so rewarding.

Q. What skills would you say intermediaries need to have?

M: Excellent rapport building skills, to be a good communicator and have a good understanding of what can make a person vulnerable in a court environment. Excellent public speaking skills.

S: For me it’s communication. Whether that is internal to ask for support from your Team Leader, or external, adapting your style when addressing judges and addressing Service Users. We constantly reflect on our practice to ensure we are the best we can be, if we don’t Communicate with one another and share resources, we don’t succeed in providing fair access to justice for the service users.

L: I think flexibility is an important one too. No day is the same and we sometimes have to adapt quickly and ‘think on our feet’!

Q. When a new intermediary starts, what is the initial training they complete?

M: Our accredited intermediary training programme covers everything, from our internal systems, how criminal and family courts work, to the role of an intermediary in the court setting. We explore Ground Rules Hearings and assisting with evidence before working on reflection which leads to evidence-based practice.

S: With the two new intermediaries in my team, I think it’s been important to follow their progress, call them at the end of the day to see how their day in court went and reflect on the experience to see how they can support future service users. I also keep in the loop during supervisions and their mentor checks in after court and checks internal case notes and simplified notes before they get sent off.

Q. How long does the training take?

M: The Intermediary Development Programme takes six to nine months to complete, but an intermediary’s training is never ending really. There is constant learning on the job, learning through reflection and supervision, but we also have regular remote and in person team training days.

S: We also have CPD logs so competent intermediaries are always looking at new ways to facilitate communication, whether that is listening to an online lecture or reading an article. Whether you are on the development programme, or a Senior Team Leader with 4 years’ experience, we are continuously reflecting on our practice and researching new ways.

L: Also, once intermediaries have completed their initial intermediary training, approximately two months later, once they’ve further developed their knowledge and skills in the courtroom, they then complete more training on how to assess the communication skills and needs of service users, including identifying which strategies may assist, and how to write this in a report for the courts.

Q. How can intermediaries go into court so quickly?

S: Intermediaries at Communicourt have a foundation knowledge from their degree and  experience of working in other settings.

M: They learn all of the skills they need during their initial training and then they are putting those skills into practice. People are always shocked at the start of training that they may be in court so quickly,  but by the end of the training they always agree that there is nothing further they can learn in the ‘classroom’. They  need to now put those skills into practice in the real world.

Sa: Even though they go into court, they aren’t left on their own.  They have a high level of support and they can easily access support if they are unsure of anything or need any advice. Someone is always available, which is usually a mentor or team leader to talk them through any situation. They will also be in regular contact with their team leader to debrief about their day and also through regular supervision to discuss their learning and progress their skills.

Q. How do you even out the different skills that intermediaries started with?

S: Everyone works through the same Intermediary Development Programme, and we can use each other’s experiences to support learning for example, one person may have worked in a forensic setting and others may have worked in a care facility. All experience is important and requires an individual to be good at communicating. If after the training weeks, people still feel they aren’t as confident as others, we put other things in place such as, pairing them up with a buddy to have practice sessions over Teams.

Sa: During supervisions with intermediaries, they can reflect on their work and their progression and may highlight areas they are finding difficult. Equally, it is part of the responsibility of a team leader to have supported discussions with each individual, and to draw out areas in which more learning might be needed and to put that support in place. So as Sarah mentioned, if there is more learning that is required around a specific skill, either the team leader or mentor can provide support or the individual can be paired up with a more experienced intermediary to enhance their skills.

Q. What do new intermediaries struggle with and how do you support them?

M: New intermediaries can struggle with confidence and simplifying on the spot. They carry out regular confidence work to reflect on their experiences and how they have improved. New intermediaries also have the option of being paired up with a simplifying buddy and doing some extra one to one work in that area.

Q. What is the most common misconceptions you encounter about intermediaries?

L: That our skills are most valuable during the individual’s oral evidence. Our input  is invaluable at all stages of the proceedings! Whilst we can ensure that someone is able to process and understand any questions that they’re asked, in order to effectively participate before that stage of the proceedings, they need to be able to understand the case against them, including the evidence given by others, and make informed decisions to instruct their legal team about how the proceedings should progress – intermediaries can facilitate those discussions and ensure that the individual understands their options and the potential outcomes.

S: That we aren’t experienced enough to do the role but when they look at our CVs are shocked at just how much we do.

Sa: That we are more of a support worker or carer role., Some judges or counsel think it falls into our role to carry out tasks such as taking the service user to get their lunch, or sitting with them during breaks, or getting them to court or back to the train station for example. We have to set boundaries and remind the court we are impartial and we are there to facilitate communication only.

Q. Do intermediaries always work in the same place?

S: No, intermediaries work all over England and Wales. It’s great to explore so many new cities.

Q. Who organises court bookings and intermediary diaries?

M: We have a very talented operations team who organise the diary for all intermediaries at Communicourt.

Q. How does training work if you all live in different places?

M: All initial training is in person and new intermediaries will travel to Birmingham. Their travel and hotel expenses are paid for, as well as a subsistence allowance during the time they are at training.

S: Outside of the initial training programme, we have communication training and assessment training which is done in person. We also have online twilight training sessions, book clubs, supervisions, all done remotely on Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

Q. What is communication training?

Sa: So, this a 5-day course for intermediaries who have not done Speech and Language therapy at degree level. We learn about typical communication, breakdown in communication including relevant diagnoses such as Learning Disability, Autism, and acquired disorders to name a few! The intermediaries will also learn how to support service users with a range of communication difficulties in court.

Q. How are intermediaries supported whilst they are working if they cannot see each other in person?

M: Mentor and team leaders are in constant contact with intermediaries especially during the first weeks. Their mentor will check in almost daily. I am mostly available too and I will make sure I check in with the new intermediaries and answer any queries they may have.

L: The wider team are also connected via WhatsApp, so if anyone needs some advice or support, someone will always be on hand to help them. As mentioned above, intermediaries also have regular supervision with their line manager, which is 1:1 protected time to talk about their development and any practitioner issues that may have arisen.

Q. When does training finish for an intermediary?

M: Training never finishes for an intermediary. We are all constantly training and learning new things as the company evolves and the needs of the service changes. We engage in at least four whole company team days where all in the company come together for a day of training.

S: There are four Team days a year, so approximately once every three months we meet in person, that was quite hard during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic though. We also have twilight training sessions, that take place online outside of court hours so everyone can attend.

Sa: Completely agree with the others, training doesn’t stop, and my opinion is that it shouldn’t stop. At Communicourt we have such a driven and hard-working team and we all want to continue to learn and develop our skills. The service needs are regularly changing and training is always required to enable us to keep up and adapt to any changes.

Q. Can you give some examples of some recent areas of training?

S: We have recently completed a training series on expression.

M: Emotional resilience, time management, expression, working with children, private proceedings

Sa:  Autism, ADHD, Expression, Inferential comprehension.

Q. How do you know people are learning from their training?

M: All training and further reading or learning is kept on a CPD log which is updated regularly.

S: And then discussed in regular supervisions.

Sa: When individuals have their performance review or supervision, they send through their CPD log which evidences their learning, but I then explore this further and ask about this as Sarah mentioned in supervision or as part of their performance review. Often intermediaries have taken the initiative to look further into a topic area and do their own independent learning following the training being delivered.

Q. What is a CPD log?

L: CPD, or Continuing Professional Development, is the process of documenting and reflecting on any learning you do throughout your professional career. Its purpose is to ensure that intermediaries skills and knowledge are up-to-date, that they’re demonstrating continued competence and to track how they’re developing in our field of work. Intermediaries do this by logging any formal or informal training/learning they do (that is relevant to their role) in a CPD Record. All practitioners are encouraged and expected to take part in monthly CPD.

Q. Can intermediaries choose to learn more about a topic of interest?

Sa: Yes, of course! When team leaders set targets with an individual, the person themselves choses the areas they would like to learn more about and the team leaders role is to make that possible, and make it so the learning can be evidenced, but the ideas come from the person themselves in terms of what they want to learn about. Aside from targets, if a member of my team is interested in a specific area, I actively encourage them to go and learn more about it. If this involves going on a course for example, then I ask them to find a relevant course and explain to me how it will improve their intermediary practise. We offered Open University courses as a way for people to explore topics of interests during the pandemic last year, and continue to do so where appropriate.

S: From my perspective, I often find out an area that one of my team members is passionate about and talk about the research they have done in that area, we sometimes host group supervisions so our learning is shared and for the wider company, we have some resources shared out in an internal newsletter which other intermediaries can then log on their CPD log.  I also have a team member who was passionate about sharing knowledge so set up a kind of book club where people join together to discuss something that is sent out in advance for example, a podcast. I also have team members that have taken up the opportunity to do some external training, through Open University courses or British Sign Language courses.

Personally, since being promoted to team leader, I have also been on Impellus training courses, so I am able to support my team in the best way I can and ensure they are the best practitioners they can be, as this was an area of interest I wanted to pursue.

Q. Sarah, you mentioned a book club, can you tell us more about that?

S: The book club was set up by one of my team members, Jess.. She discussed wanting to share her learning with everyone without the formality of a twilight training session. She presents several options in a poll and people vote for their favourite one they wish to listen to, read or watch. Jess prepares some questions and sends them in advance so people have some idea of what we might talk about. We all then meet up over Teams. Some of our most recent content was a podcast from the Savvy Psychologist talking about emotional resilience, and a documentary on BBC iPlayer, Are We Tough Enough?

Q. How does completing training make you feel?

S: Great! Communicourt are one of the only companies I know that support us accessing as much CPD as we do! I want to learn, I want to be a better practitioner and each article I read or TED talk I listen to, makes me feel more confident, I trust that our team will bring forward new and exciting research so we are always top of our game.

Sa: More confident! Nobody is ever too good to stop learning, and completing training develops our skills and keeps us progressing as individual’s and improves our overall practise and service we can provide to our service users.

L: I have a thirst for knowledge and it’s great that Communicourt actively encourages us all to continue learning, wherever we can. It feels good to know that I’m continually doing the best for the courts and service users we work with!